Thursday, October 20, 2011

Would You Do What I Did?

I haven't spoken to my birth father since 2002 or early 2003.  I don't use the term birth father to indicate that I was adopted.  He and my mother were married when they had me.

I was two or three months old when he met and manhandled someone who immediately had him arrested for said manhandling, but later went on to have two children with him.  They married a few years later and are still together to this day.  She is my beloved Wicked Stepmom (the name she gave herself).  I am her Sweet Pea.

I am 40 years old and I am someone's Sweet Pea.

Birth Father was mostly out of my life from when I was four or five until I was 11.  From what I can gather, it was probably a combination of lack of effort on his part and lack of willingness to deal with any confrontation on my mom's.  Maybe, too, it was fairly common then for children to simply take on the new husband's last name and sweep that other dude under the rug.

He didn't really become part of my life until I was old enough to drive from where we lived, just east of the LA county border to where they lived, just north of the US/Mexico border.

Eventually (right after I moved back to San Diego), he moved their family to the deep south.

He has spent most of his life since then as a truck driver.  Every few months he would find his way to my neck of the woods.  By then, I was divorced.  Corey and I had our own place.  We would go to the truck stop to pick up Papaw and either get a meal out or bring him home.

Corey adored his papaw.  Pretty sure the feeling was mutual.  And I loved having him in my life.  We used to just chat, sometimes for an hour or more.

I had him and I had the father who raised me and life was good.

Birth Father has a long history of problems.  Lying.  Cheating.  Anger.  Never having lived with the man, I never witnessed it, and by the time we had become so close, those stories were in the past.  Troubling, but old.

Then he got caught cheating on my beloved Wicked Stepmom.  Again.  And it had been going on for an extended time.

Over a decade.

I was done.

I don't believe that saying, "You can't choose your family."  I chose the man who raised me.

Birth Father and I never discussed it.  I cut him out and he accepted it.  I just cannot tolerate people who willingly, knowingly hurt others simply to satisfy themselves.  Wicked Stepmom chose to stay for her own reasons, and I credit her with a strength to do something I could not do.

Just last year, at age 62, he was arrested for assaulting at least one family member.  As I've mentioned before, they are the Jerry Springer side of my family, so I never tried to gather all of the details.  Because of the fiasco, I'm pretty sure he was mandated to attend anger management training and counseling.  I can't imagine he would have ever gone otherwise.

Wicked Stepmom and I talk at least a few times a month.  Every once in a while she mentions her hope that I will come around.

Here's how the most recent conversation went:

"Your dad and your brother are emailing.  They seem to be getting along real well."
"I know.  I saw something about that on Facebook."
"Three down and one to go."
"Yes, but it's my understanding that the man is still a rat bastard who has never acknowledged what he's done, nor apologized.  He's never reached out to make amends to anyone.  I choose not to have that sort of person in my life.  I have enough to deal with."

She agreed with me.  It's not like I'm the crazy one who's holding out for no good reason; they all know they're fucking nuts, but they're sticking together anyway.

That conversation was on Monday morning.  The next day I received an email from Birth Dad.  It's not the first one I've received in the last eight or nine years.  He has forwarded religious and political humor emails.  (That is a family trait I hope my kids never pick up!)  Last year when Wicked Stepmom was struggling to send emails with photos, he helped her out and forwarded a few things.  Never any sort of note.  Nothing.

Yesterday's email was a bona fide personal note.  His sister had died the night before.  She'd had a stroke a few years back and never recovered.  He hoped we were well and sent his love to us all.


What am I supposed to do with that?

I cannot believe the emotions it brought up.

Over the past few years, especially as I've heard about his various health conditions, I have wondered how I will feel when he is gone.  It wasn't "how will I feel when he's gone if we don't find a way to reconcile?"  The man has had 63 years of lying, manipulating and bullying.  It's not like he's going to change that much.

Hearing that his sister had died brought that right back.  Made the reality* feel more real.

*I don't understand why people talk about the possibility of death as if there is some alternative.

Not only that, but taking eight or nine years to write those few simple lines says to me that it took some courage.  When it comes to that level of putting oneself out there, I'm a veritable sucker.

I talked with Nance and Tom and asked what they thought about it.  Nance's thought was that it was god working in mysterious ways.  I'm not religious, so there's not a lot I can do with that.

I asked Heather, too.  Of all my friends, she is the most likely to have a situation close enough to feel like she can relate.  She thought I should respond mainly to avoid future drama.  She is from the south, so maybe that makes sense from a Southern perspective.

Personally, I felt like a response was in order.  I don't want to try to out-jerk the jerk, and I cannot otherwise justify not responding.  So I did it.  I could not bring myself to leave the opening that Tom suggested.  However, I did tell him how to find a cache of low quality cell phone videos of the girls, which in some ways seems to have had the same affect.  Two emails have followed.  Not the sort that would necessarily require a response under regular circumstances other than to maybe say thanks.  I'm so far behind on corresponding with people that the thanks wouldn't normally come for another few weeks.

It's hard to know where to go from here.  It's not a place I've been before and I don't see the clear best path.

Once upon a time I did severely limit contact with my oldest brother.  He was going through this druggie/asshole-ish phase that I just couldn't have around my son.  If he called, we always talked.  Sometimes went better than others, but I was never not there for him.  I was pulling for him and held my breath when he started talking about leaving certain friends and activities behind.  My brother didn't ever seem to me like the lost cause that I figured Birth Dad to be.

So I am wondering, would you (at any point) do what I did?  What would you do?


Emms said...

What a tough situation. I would have closed him out of my life just as you did. In regards to answering the email? Man, I don't know how I would have handled it. Like you said, it must have taken courage for him to reach out, especially if he knew why you cut him out in the first place. If you followed your heart then you did the right thing.
My thoughts would have centered around 'has he changed, why does he think he can come back to me now, etc'. If I could answer any in a positive way then I probably would have answered, but if not then I might not have.
My parents are still together but for many years my relationship with my dad wasn't the best. It's better now, and I love him, but it'll never be what it could or should be. So I understand to some extent your mixed feelings.

Anti-Supermom said...

Oh, Shan. I'm so sorry.

I would probably have shut myself off completely, it's just not something I need in my life, and it sounds questionable, if you need *him* in your life.


rachel said...

I can't say what I would or would not have done. But I thank you for the honesty of this post. I hope you both find healing along whichever path you choose.

Noelle said...


I have the answer I gave my friend when she was in a similar situation with her dad and wanted to know my opinion...

Hmmm...I'll probably just say you have to do what you feel is best for you and your family, regardless of what the world says you should do.

I'm sorry you're in the kind of situation where you even have to make that kind of decision.

JT said...

Huh. I haven't spoke to my dad since 2000. Funny thing is, he raised me from when I was 7 til I went to boarding school for high school at 14. In 2000, I got married. And one day, like usual, my dad called me to freak out about something trivial. For my entire life he would berate and insult me. This time would have been just like the countless times before, except I was sick of it. I told him that he couldn't speak to me like that anymore. And I hung up. I tried to make amends, by leaving him a Christmas gift that holiday. No response from him. It's been hard to cut him off, knowing that about 50% of the time he is an awesome, fun, brilliant guy. But the other 50%, he is a mean, nasty, unhappy asshole. I could never leave my little Gumball alone with him.

It sounds like you're handling your situation with your dad well. Maybe he will be able to become some sort of positive presence in your girls' lives. See? I'm a hopeful, optimistic fool. I really wish my own dad could be a positive presence in Gumball's life, but if he ever disappointed her, or insulted her, I'm afraid I'd cut him (off, up, whichever). It is so hard when little people's feelings are involved. If I were to allow my dad into Gumball's life- and my life- he would be on an incredibly short leash. For a long time. I hope your dad doesn't do anything stupid to re-break your trust. He's missed so much. What a fool.

Chelsea said...

I've been there. I am there? My "birth father" sounds scarily like yours.

I had to cut him out. I just didn't have room in my head for all of his madness. He's a "crazy-maker."

If my father were to try to email me (he's never that easily avoidable in my life) I would be kind, but not get attached, if you know what I mean. I'm thinking about you. This sucks.

Bossy Betty said...

Hey, Sugar. I am late to the conversation. I would have probably sent a cordial note saying I was sorry for his loss, but would have worded it in such a way that it would not invite further conversation.

I am learning about boundaries here. They are tough to establish and even tougher to maintain sometimes.

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